Koznyshev lectures Levin for withdrawing from the local district affairs, but Levin is more concerned with the ploughing of his fields than the welfare of the peasants. Levin admits that he doesn’t care about the “common cause.” He doesn’t see a need for schools that the peasants don’t want and he doesn’t need. Levin believes in the natural order of things and doesn’t want to bother with elaborate reforms.
Levin cannot become politically engaged with concerns of peasant welfare because he does not think of the peasants as a separate class that needs to be helped. Levin doesn’t see the need for reform; he believes that everyone should simply do his or her work.
Levin argues that even though zemtsvo institutions sound good philosophically, in practice, they are unnecessary: schools will not make the roads better, and elaborate institutions will not improve lives. Moreover, Levin doesn’t need the institutions himself.
Levin doesn’t see any personal benefit to establishing institutions for the peasants; he believes that education is a waste of time for working people.
When Koznyshev points out that the emancipation of the serfs was contrary to self-interest but was still a good thing, Levin retorts that the emancipation was a matter of lifting the yoke of the noblemen, but that this was not the same thing at all as building unnecessary civic infrastructure. Koznyshev asks Levin if he would rather be tried by jury or by the old criminal courts, and Levin replies that the question is irrelevant because he’s not going to trial.
The emancipation of the serfs—who then became peasants but were no longer bound by law to noblemen who essentially owned them—was a major political issue in 19th-century Russia; indeed, all the issues that arise in the argument between the brothers were major concerns in the political landscape of Tolstoy’s era. At this time, peasants in Russia were starting to gain more rights, and widespread reforms were changing the nature of Russian country life.